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Sunday Night Football: Indianapolis Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers Prediction and Preview

Sunday Night Football: Indianapolis Colts vs. San Francisco 49ers Prediction and Preview

Week 7 comes with a "Sunday Night Football" matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom looked great on paper during the offseason. These teams entered this season with aspirations of making a deep run into the playoffs, if not all the way to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this game now has the feel of a loser-leaves-town scenario, as the Colts (2-4) are two games behind Tennessee in the AFC South and the 49ers (2-3) are in a deep hole in the NFC West with Arizona and the Los Angeles Rams sitting at a combined record of 11-1.

Indianapolis handled its business last week, cruising past the Houston Texans for a 31-3 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Carson Wentz had just 11 completions (on 20 attempts), but they went for 223 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, he didn't the turn ball over. Wentz also didn't have to do too much with Jonathan Taylor running all over the Texans to the tune of 145 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. T.Y. Hilton’s return to the lineup brought a sense of stability to the offense as he caught four passes for 80 yards, but he also suffered a quad injury and won't play on Sunday. The defense also did its part in the blowout, creating three turnovers and keeping Houston out of the end zone all game long.

San Francisco is looking to get back on track after a bye week following a 17-10 loss at Arizona in Week 5. Trey Lance's first career start went about as expected in a hostile environment. He was 15-of-29 for 192 yards and an interception against an aggressive Cardinals defense that sacked him twice. The highlight of the day for Lance was how he used his legs as he rushed for 89 yards on 16 carries. It's his dual-threat capabilities that could make him very dangerous once he fully grasps head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense. Defensively, the 49ers did a good job of limiting Kyler Murry and Arizona's explosive offense, holding them 304 total yards and their fewest points thus far. In every other game, the Cardinals have scored 31 or more points. San Francisco will need more performances like this from the defense until the offense comes together, especially with both Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo dealing with injuries.

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Sunday Night Football: Indianapolis (2-4) at San Francisco (2-3)

Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 24 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Spread: 49ers -4

Three Things to Watch

1. Carson Wentz and the Colts' big-play ability on offense
Wentz has played well over the last few weeks as he is not trying to win the game by himself. For the season, Wentz is completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,545 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. His 102.4 passer rating ranks 11th in the NFL and is a good sign of his development. Wentz is capable of putting up big numbers, but he needs to continue to be content to take what the defense gives him (and rely on his running game) instead of trying to play hero ball, which is what often got him into trouble with the Eagles. Wentz needs to play like a basketball point guard, especially this week against an aggressive 49ers defense. Explosive plays are certainly possible from this Colts offense. They have produced plays of 42, 51, 52, 76, and 83 yards in the last two games alone. Look for head coach Frank Reich to attack what has been a vulnerable San Francisco secondary early and often to try and come up with some big gains. That will loosen up the front seven and should open up more running room for Taylor, who is averaging a healthy 5.4 yards per carry and already has four rushes of 20-plus yards. Indianapolis also will get a boost with the return of All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, who was activated from injured reserve on Saturday after missing the past three games because of an ankle injury.

2. 49ers' offense vs. Colts' defense
Lance, who is nursing a knee sprain, didn't practice all week so it's no surprise he's been ruled out. This means that Garoppolo will be back on the field for the first time since injuring his calf in Week 4. Because of the bye, he's only missed one game, but rust could be an issue. Garoppolo is a solid player, but he will definitely need his playmakers to do their job to help him succeed. The backfield has dealt with numerous injuries and is still missing a couple of pieces. Tight end George Kittle is on injured reserve, and the only consistent pass catcher has been Deebo Samuel. He's fifth in the league in receiving (548 yards) and is on pace for 100 receptions but can’t do it alone. Samuel is going to be a point of emphasis for Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' game plan, which is made easier due to Kittle's absence. That could free up linebacker Darius Leonard to make plays from sideline to sideline, and you know defensive tackle DeForest Bucker will be fired up to face his former team. Look for Shanahan to dial up a lot of runs and some screen passes to try and slow down Indianapolis' pass rush, especially with his quarterback coming back from a leg injury.

3. Finishing games and the addiction to analytics
Two weeks ago in Baltimore, the Colts held a 25-9 lead over the Ravens and failed to finish the job, falling in overtime. The NFL has become over-reliant upon analytics instead of using good old-fashioned common (football) sense. If you are on the road and have a lead with a physical offensive line like Indianapolis does, there is no reason to overcomplicate things on offense. Taylor is a high-quality running back that can put a game on his shoulders late and bring it home by moving the chains. The Colts have gone 8-for-20 on third down over the last two weeks and will need to improve that success rate this week to put them in the best position to win on Sunday night. The goal for Reich and his staff should be to have Taylor get around 25 carries to try and wear down Nick Bosa and the rest of the 49ers' defensive line.

Final Analysis

Expect this game to surprise the nation and surpass expectations in relation to what transpired last Sunday night. What initially looked like a decisive Pittsburgh win over a Wilson-less Seattle turned into a thrilling overtime affair. Wentz has been playing well lately, whereas Garoppolo is coming back from an injury and hasn't played in a few weeks. Wentz is in a good spot mentally right now, which should help him to continue to make the right decisions when he's in or out of the pocket. Besides knocking off some rust, Garoppolo also will be missing his favorite target in Kittle. Samuel has been getting the job done, but fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk has not developed as quickly as many thought he would. He has just eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown through five games. Indianapolis appears to have more balance on offense right now, which will help the visitors outlast the 49ers and improve to 3-4 on the season.

Prediction: Colts 24, 49ers 20